Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Paul Verhoeven|
|Screenplay by||Edward Neumeier|
|Based on||Starship Troopers|
by Robert A. Heinlein
|Music by||Basil Poledouris|
|Box office||$121.2 million|
Starship Troopers is a 1997 American satirical military science fiction action film directed by Paul Verhoeven and written by Edward Neumeier. It originally came from an unrelated script called Bug Hunt at Outpost Nine, but eventually licensed the name Starship Troopers from the science fiction novel of the same name by Robert A. Heinlein. The story follows a young soldier named Johnny Rico and his exploits in the Mobile Infantry, a futuristic military unit. Rico's military career progresses from recruit to non-commissioned officer and finally to officer against the backdrop of an interstellar war between mankind and an insectoid species known as "Arachnids".
The only theatrically released film in the Starship Troopers film series, it received mostly negative reviews from critics upon release but has garnered a more mixed reception in retrospect. It grossed $54.5 million in the US and a total of $121.2 million worldwide against its budget of $105 million. The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects at the 70th Academy Awards in 1998. In 2012, Slant Magazine ranked the film #20 on its list of the 100 Best Films of the 1990s.
In the 23rd century, while colonizing new planets, humans have encountered a hostile non-technological insectoid species known as Arachnids or "Bugs".
In the Federation, citizenship is earned by performing such activities as military service, which grants individuals opportunities prohibited to basic civilians. After graduating from high school in Buenos Aires, John "Johnny" Rico, his girlfriend Carmen Ibanez, and psychic best friend Carl Jenkins enlist in the Federal Service, despite Rico's parents' disapproval of military service. Carmen becomes a spaceship pilot, while Carl joins Military Intelligence. Rico enlists in the Mobile Infantry and is surprised to find Isabelle "Dizzy" Flores, his fellow ex-student, has deliberately transferred to his squad.
In Mobile Infantry basic training, Career Sgt. Zim trains the recruits. Rico is later promoted to squad leader and befriends Ace Levy. He later receives a Dear John letter from Carmen, as she desires a career with the fleet and now serves under Rico's high-school sports rival, Zander Barcalow. Following a live-fire training incident that kills one of Rico's squad members and causes another to quit out of guilt, Rico is demoted and flogged. He resigns and calls his parents to ask them if he can return home, but rescinds his resignation after an asteroid, reported to be launched by the Arachnids, obliterates Buenos Aires, killing his parents and millions of others.
An invasion force is deployed to Klendathu, the Arachnids' home planet, but the operation is a total disaster. Rico is severely wounded and mistakenly reported KIA. After recovering, he, Ace, and Dizzy are reassigned to the "Roughnecks", an elite unit commanded by Lt. Jean Rasczak, Rico's former high-school teacher. He quickly gains the respect of his peers and is promoted to the rank of Corporal after taking out a tanker bug. His relationship with Dizzy continues to grow, and they have sex during their night on Tango Urilla.
The Roughnecks respond to a distress call from Planet "P", where they reconnoiter an outpost that has been devastated by Bugs. They soon realize that the distress call is a trap, and the Arachnids swarm the outpost. Rico, now an acting sergeant, euthanizes a mortally wounded Rasczak after a buried Bug bites off his legs. Dizzy is killed, but the surviving Roughnecks are rescued by Carmen and Zander. Rico and Carmen encounter Carl, now a high-ranking intelligence officer, at Dizzy's funeral. Carl reveals that there is reason to believe an intelligent "brain bug" is directing the other Bugs and has been learning how to fight humans. He field-promotes Rico to lieutenant and gives him command of the Roughnecks, ordering the Mobile Infantry units under his control to return to "P" in an attempt to capture the brain bug.
The Fleet encounters unexpected heavy fire from the Bugs and Carmen's ship is destroyed. Carmen and Zander's escape pod crashes into a Bug tunnel system near Rico. They are surrounded by Bugs and a brain bug uses its proboscis to pierce Zander's skull and eat his brain. As it is about to do the same to Carmen, she cuts off its proboscis with a knife. Rico, Watkins and Ace arrive and threaten the Bugs with a small nuclear bomb, which the brain bug recognizes. They flee while the brain bug makes its escape. Arachnids pursue them and Watkins, mortally wounded, sacrifices himself by detonating the bomb to enable the others to escape.
After returning to the surface, they find that former Sergeant Zim, who had requested a demotion to private so that he could serve at the front, has captured the brain bug. Carl tells Rico and Carmen that the humans will soon be victorious now that Military Intelligence can study the brain bug. Carl mentally scans the Bug and reveals that it is afraid, to the cheers of the troops. A propaganda clip shows Carmen, Ace, and Rico as model servicemen, encouraging viewers to enlist in the armed forces.
The film started life as a script called Bug Hunt at Outpost Nine. When similarities, especially the "bugs", were pointed out between this and the novel Starship Troopers, plans were made to license the rights to the book and tweak character names and circumstances to match. Paul Verhoeven had never read the book, and attempted to read it for the film, but it made him "bored and depressed", so he read only a few chapters:
I stopped after two chapters because it was so boring ... It is really quite a bad book. I asked Ed Neumeier to tell me the story because I just couldn't read the thing. It's a very right-wing book.[dead link]
Neumeier had previously worked with Verhoeven as a writer on Robocop (1987).
Two nude scenes were kept in the original version (the co-ed shower and a bedroom romp between Rico and Dizzy), although these were modified in the broadcast version. The cast agreed to do the co-ed shower scene only if Verhoeven agreed to direct the scene naked, which he did.
In the audio commentary on the DVD or Blu-ray release, Verhoeven remarks that he had hoped to cast actors whose age more closely matched that of the characters--and indeed of real-world soldiers--but that the producers felt such actors would look too young. The teacher and leader of the "Roughnecks" in the novel are combined into one role played by Ironside.
Test audience reactions led to several minor changes before the film was released. Originally, it was clear that Carmen was torn between Rico and Zander. Test audiences, regardless of gender, strongly felt that a woman could not love two men at once, so scenes which portrayed this were cut. These audiences also felt it was immoral for Carmen to choose a career ahead of being loyal to Rico, to the extent that many commented that, in so doing, Carmen should have been the one to die instead of Dizzy. While admitting it may have been a bad commercial decision not to change the film to accommodate this, the producer and director did cut a scene from after Zander's death in which Carmen and Rico kiss, which the audience believed made the previous betrayal even more immoral.
Because the film originated from an unrelated script, with names and superficial details from the novel being added retroactively, there are many differences between the two. While the novel has been accused of promoting militarism, fascism, and military rule, the film satirizes these concepts by featuring bombastic displays of nationalism as well as news reports that are intensely xenophobic and propagandistic.
Verhoeven stated in 1997 that the first scene of the film--an advertisement for the Mobile Infantry--was adapted shot-for-shot from a scene in Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will (1935), specifically an outdoor rally for the Reichsarbeitsdienst. Other references to Nazism in the movie include the Wehrmacht-inspired uniforms and insignia of field grade officers, M.I. working uniforms reminiscent of Mussolini's Blackshirts, Albert Speer's style of architecture, and its propagandistic dialogue ("Violence is the supreme authority!").
In a 2014 interview on The Adam Carolla Show, the actor Michael Ironside, who read the novel as a youth, said that he asked Verhoeven, who grew up in Nazi-occupied Netherlands, "Why are you doing a right-wing fascist movie?" Verhoeven replied, "If I tell the world that a right-wing, fascist way of doing things doesn't work, no one will listen to me. So I'm going to make a perfect fascist world: everyone is beautiful, everything is shiny, everything has big guns and fancy ships, but it's only good for killing fucking Bugs!"
The film includes visual allusions to propaganda films such as Why We Fight, Triumph of the Will and wartime newsreels, and the symbols and certain clothing styles of the Federation are modeled on those of the Nazis (e.g., windbreakers, suits, caps, etc. Furthermore, the military intelligence officer's uniforms bear a striking similarity to those of the Allgemeine-SS).
The use of Nazi imagery for the film's Americanized heroes (actually, Argentineans, etc.) occasioned comment. At the time of the film's theatrical release, the filmmakers did not explain their reasons for this choice. Some viewers interpreted it as a satirical takedown of fascism, while others saw a celebration of it.
In his DVD commentary, Verhoeven stated his intentions clearly: the film's message is that "War makes fascists of us all". He evoked Nazi Germany's fashion, iconography, and propaganda because he saw it as a natural evolution of the United States after World War II, and especially after the Korean War. "I've heard this film nicknamed All Quiet on the Final Frontier", he said, "which is actually not far from the truth." Edward Neumeier broadly concurs, although he sees a satire on human history rather than solely the United States. Verhoeven says his satirical use of irony and hyperbole is "playing with fascism or fascist imagery to point out certain aspects of American society... of course, the movie is about 'Let's all go to war and let's all die.'"
Verhoeven also compared the film to previous creature features from the 1950s, such as Them! (1954) and The Deadly Mantis (1957). Speaking about these films, he said they "expressed the fear about the nuclear threat at the time and the feelings of helplessness and despair it caused", while Starship Troopers (which was filmed in a post-Cold War United States) was about "having no more enemies." He also discussed how making movies of the sort are difficult due to political correctness, but "if it's big insects that you can shoot to pieces, nobody cares." Tying this into the theme of the film, he said the statement of the film is that "we like enemies."
On release, Starship Troopers received negative reviews from American critics. In a 2017 retrospective round-up of the best films of 1997, The A.V. Club critic Ignatiy Vishnevetsky called the film "too damn well-made for its own good" and said that it confused audiences and critics. On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, which collects both contemporaneous and modern reviews, it has a 62% approval rating based on 61 reviews, with a weighted average of 6.07/10. The site's consensus is: "A fun movie...if you can accept the excessive gore and wooden acting." On Metacritic, it has a rating of 51/100 based on 20 reviews, indicating mixed or average reviews. Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "C+" on an A+ to F scale.
The film was panned by Janet Maslin of The New York Times, Jeff Vice of the Deseret News, and Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times, all of whom called it shallow and oriented toward teenage, male science fiction fans; Ebert had previously praised the satire in Verhoeven's RoboCop. Calum Marsh of The Atlantic disagreed with these critics in his 2013 article on the film, which he called a "...satire, a ruthlessly funny and keenly self-aware sendup of right-wing militarism...[that] critiques the military-industrial complex, the jingoism of American foreign policy, and a culture that privileges reactionary violence over sensitivity and reason." In a 2015 article for Salon, comedian and writer Aasif Mandvi criticized Casper Van Dien's casting as whitewashing compared to the character's Filipino origins in the book.[dead link]
Starship Troopers was nominated for a number of awards in 1998, including the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects; the film won Saturn Awards for Best Costumes and Best Special Effects at the 1998 Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films, USA Awards. It was also nominated for Worst Picture at the Stinkers Bad Movie Awards but lost to Batman and Robin.
The film has spawned four sequels, including two live-action films, Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation (2004) and Starship Troopers 3: Marauder (2008), as well as two animated films, Starship Troopers: Invasion (2012) and Starship Troopers: Traitor of Mars (2017).
In 1997 Avalon Hill released Starship Troopers: Prepare for Battle!, a board game based on the film version rather than Heinlein's book. Its gameplay focused on limited skirmishes rather than larger battles. Avalon Hill had previously released a game called Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers in 1976.
A real-time tactics video game titled Starship Troopers: Terran Ascendancy was released in 2000. This game also incorporated the powered suits in Heinlein's novel into the Verhoeven version of the Mobile Infantry. It was developed by Australian software company Blue Tongue Entertainment.
A first-person shooter game also titled Starship Troopers was released November 15, 2005. This version was developed by Strangelite Studios and published by Empire Interactive. Set five years after the events of the film, the game also featured Van Dien voicing the in-game version of Johnny Rico.
In December 2011, film producer Neal Moritz announced plans to remake the film.[dead link] In November 2016, Columbia and Moritz announced the writing team of Mark Swift and Damian Shannon had been signed to pen the screenplay. Verhoeven has expressed skepticism at the proposed remake, citing reports that it draws heavily from the original "fascistic and militaristic" 1959 novel.
I stopped after two chapters because it was so boring," says Verhoeven of his attempts to read Heinlein's opus. "It is really quite a bad book. I asked Ed Neumeier to tell me the story because I just couldn't read the thing. It's a very right-wing book. And with the movie we tried, and I think at least partially succeeded, in commenting on that at the same time. It would be eat your cake and have it. All the way through we were fighting with the fascism, the ultra-militarism. All the way through I wanted the audience to be asking, 'Are these people crazy?'